By Nicole Russell
Minnesota is known for its lakes and beautiful, frozen winters. But now it’s dealing with another kind of slippery slope — and this one is harder to thaw.
Minnesota doesn’t have the same conservative streak that its neighbors have, but neither has it been a bastion of unchecked progressivism. Since 1971, the state has elected one Republican governor, two “independent Republican governors,” and a Reform Party governor — Jesse “The Body” Ventura, of course. The rest have been members of the DFL Party (Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, Minnesota’s version of the Democrats).
The current governor, Tim Walz, a former congressman, ousted his predecessor in Congress, Republican Gil Gutknecht, by being what Minnesotans would refer to as a “Blue Dog” Second Amendment guy. But when he ran for governor, he shifted.
“Walz totally repositioned. Now he’s a progressive darling trying to make Minnesota a magnet, a mecca of liberalism,” Scott Cottington, a GOP consultant based in Minnesota, told the Washington Examiner.
The pivot worked for Walz. He got elected in 2019, and as Cottington says, “Their leadership feels bulletproof right now.” Walz’s party has consolidated control over its elected state government, and the shift is palpable.
“Minnesota Democrats Rapidly Advance the Most Progressive Agenda in a Generation,” declared the Star Tribune, Minnesota’s newspaper of note, on Feb. 23. The paper is already being proved right.
Minnesota had a budget surplus this year of about $18 billion, more than half of the total state budget. Instead of using some of that for tax relief or public improvement projects, Walz announced the One Minnesota Budget to turn the state into an outpost of Scandinavian socialism.
The $12 billion proposal promises to lower the cost of child care for middle-class families, reduce child poverty by expanding tax credits for families, pour the largest investment in public education in state history, and provide universal school meals for students, all while expanding access to special education and mental health resources.
“The DFL is expanding government into everything,” Cottington told the Washington Examiner. “On one hand, we’re a large and rich nation, and there’s no reason people should have to worry about basics — that’s just compassionate — but where does this end up?”
Though in the minority, Republicans balked. “In a time there is a record surplus, $17.6 billion, Minnesotans are expecting to have that back,” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth said in a statement. “Unfortunately, what we heard today is Minnesota is spending and it’s going to cost Minnesotans a little bit more to be here. That was a little bit surprising. If we can’t cut taxes now, when can we?” To Demuth’s point: According to the most recent study, Minnesota has the eighth-highest tax burden in the nation.
Minnesota’s fiscal policies are just the start of this left-wing takeover. In January, Minnesota Democrats passed the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act. The bill enshrined abortion on demand into state law, and Democrats ignored Republicans’ attempts to add amendments that would restrict abortions in the third trimester. It passed in the Senate by one vote, exactly along party lines, and Walz signed it into law on Jan. 31.
In a press release, the Republican Party of Minnesota called the PRO Act the “most extreme abortion bill in the U.S.”
“As Democrats keep pushing this dangerous and extreme agenda through, they continue to vote down reasonable protections for women and children — including guardrails like limits on late-term abortions or providing parental notification or consent,” said Mike Lonergan, executive director of the Republican Party of Minnesota. “The Democrats’ agenda of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand up to and even after birth is extreme and out of step with Minnesota.”
The PRO Act isn’t the only bill making Minnesota a haven for abortion activists. Moses Bratrud, director of strategy at the Minnesota Family Council, told the Washington Examiner there’s another set of bills in the House and Senate that would make abortion “completely unregulated. Pet stores would be more regulated than abortion clinics.” The bills haven’t been passed yet, but Democrats appear to have the numbers to do so.
By the end of the 2022 midterm elections, Minnesota had elected its most diverse legislature ever. Almost 6% of the state’s 201 members of the legislature identify as LGBTQ. And the resulting policy agenda goes far beyond promoting inclusion.
The incoming class is “really going to change the dynamics of what people expect lawmakers to look like, the way they expect lawmakers to act, and the kind of issues we push to the forefront,” newcomer Leigh Finke, the first transgender person elected to Minnesota’s legislature, told the Associated Press.
Finke would know. The lawmaker introduced the “Take Pride Act,” a measure that would amend Minnesota’s Human Rights Act to remove the line that says, “Sexual orientation does not include a physical or sexual attachment to children by an adult.” In other words, language that excluded pedophiles from legal protections would be removed. After an outcry, the bill appears to be stalled.
There’s more. Another bill that has already passed the House — its counterpart is still percolating through the Senate — intends to ensure that minors can receive sex-change surgery or cross-sex hormones without parental consent. But this bill gets worse, too.
“The most concerning aspect [of the bills] is how it would change Minnesota child custody law,” Bratrud told the Washington Examiner. The state would receive emergency custody of children wishing to receive such life-altering gender-related care. “Minnesota is devaluing parents’ rights in favor of state custody,” he said. “That’s why we call it the ‘Kidnapping Bill.’” Minnesota hopes to become a so-called trans refuge state. This bill accomplishes that.
Religious liberty is on shaky ground, too. Minnesota’s new law banning conversion therapy goes a step beyond other such bills by including a clause that holds that if a therapist even suggests alternatives to the patient’s sexual preference or gender identity, he or she is engaging in fraudulent practice. The law thus curtails the speech of faith-based pastors, therapists, counselors, and others whose counsel is informed by traditional values, even if they don’t practice conversion therapy.
It’s easy to trace Minnesota’s transition from modern liberalism toward extreme progressive policies. It began with Mark Dayton’s 2010 decision to run as a populist liberal, which earned him a close victory. Once Dayton put Democrats in charge, they simply continued veering left.
To be sure, populist liberalism was by no means Dayton’s innovation. Paul Wellstone embodied those ideas on behalf of Minnesotans in the U.S. Senate circa the late 1990s. Minnesotans have loved Democrats as far back as Hubert Humphrey, a senator who embraced modern liberalism and who served as vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson. When Ronald Reagan ran for president, he famously won all 49 states save Minnesota, which voted for Walter Mondale, another senator who had served as Jimmy Carter’s vice president. But in state and local offices, progressive Minnesota Democrats were far from a shoo-in even as they won federal elections.
The fiasco following George Floyd’s murder in 2020 was a turning point for Minnesota to the extent that it offered progressives a chance to flex their political muscle. Following his death, rioters damaged 1,300 properties in Minneapolis, which cost the city $350 million. Rioters looted and damaged 300 businesses in neighboring St. Paul, costing $82 million. Instead of arresting those responsible, Minneapolis leaders pledged to defund the police, a sentiment they later reversed following a massive crime wave in 2021, giving residents a look at unchallenged progressivism run amok.
Many Minnesotans have voted with their feet. According to the American Experiment, from mid-2021 to mid-2022, over 19,000 Minnesotans moved to other states, by far the highest number in 30 years.
Democrats, of course, view their elected politicians and implemented policies as evidence of success. “In terms of simple politics, increased pragmatism — from DFL primary voters, not party activists — has been fundamental to Minnesota Democrats’ improved results. Nothing wins like winning,” professor and historian Doug Rossinow wrote last year.
But their majority in the Senate is only one vote, and eventually, these progressive policies will reach the suburbs and rural areas and might sour even the most “Minnesota Nice” voters — the ones who haven’t left yet, anyway.
Nicole Russell is a mother of four who now resides in Texas but grew up in Minnesota, where she learned to water-ski and ice fish and eventually worked for the Republican Party. Now, she’s a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and a regular contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog.